A quarter-million Texas children are living with family members other than their parents, and many aren’t getting the state and federal benefits they’re due, according to a report released Tuesday.
When the state of Texas decides a parent is no longer able to care for their child, formal procedures dictate a few options: children may be placed with foster families, or in group homes or residential treatment centers. Or children may be placed into what’s known as kinship care, living with family members through a court order or an arrangement with the state. Children and their caregivers get health and financial benefits, and often a caseworker to help them navigate the system.
But a new report from the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning Austin-based policy analysis group, estimates that many more Texas children are living with relatives or family friends without the state’s involvement, and without the benefits they’re entitled to receive.
“Kinship caregivers are raising some of Texas’ most vulnerable children in challenging circumstances, and their service saves the state millions of dollars each year,” said Rachel Cooper, the report’s lead author and a senior policy analyst with CPPP, in a statement. “Texas has the opportunity to ease the financial burden of becoming a caregiver by providing the support families need to offer stable, loving homes for children in need.”
The report, “Keeping Kids with Family: How Texas Can Better Support Kinship Care,” notes that informal kinship caregivers are more likely to be “poor, single, older, less educated and unemployed than traditional families with at least one parent present.” Yet these caregivers often face significant barriers to getting public benefits like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Caregivers may not have access to the documentation necessary to receive benefits for a child, or they may hesitate to take a “handout” from the government. The report shows a small percentage of these caregivers enroll children in Medicaid, even though almost all children qualify if they live in households other than their parents’.
Much of the problem, according to the report, is that the agencies that run support programs aren’t reaching informal caregivers, and the application process can be cumbersome and confusing.
The report estimates 253,000 children live in informal kinship arrangements in Texas, the second most in the nation after California. There are 27,000 children in state custody, either in formal kinship care or paid foster care, under the Department of Family and Protective Services. But that much smaller group receives far more attention from the state.
The Center for Public Policy Priorities says one solution is to establish a Kinship Navigator Program, where the state could partner with an existing nonprofit that would continue to educate caregivers and serve as a referral network for services. The report says the Legislature should also raise TANF payments to caregivers.
“To support families and keep children out of the state’s already overburdened foster care system,” the report states, “Texas should move quickly to ease the financial burden of becoming a kinship caregiver in Texas.”
Under the state’s formal kinship program, caregivers receive at least $400 a month. Foster families get, at minimum, just under $700 per child. But the most an informal kinship caregiver receives is $96 per month from TANF programs for one child. That is hardly enough money, says Angie Grindon with the Houston-based Relatives as Parents Program. The program helps keep kids out of state care by helping caregivers access resources and educate them about their new roles.
“We need to raise the awareness of all of the folks out there throughout our community that are doing this and raising our children,” Grindon says. “If you don’t have the kinship caregivers stepping up to take care of these children, they’re going to end up in [state custody], and that’s gonna require state money to take care of them.”
Grindon says the first two years of informal kinship placements are the most difficult, but keeping children in their family or community is often best. “When you take on an extra child, there’s extra money involved,” she says. “People do not want their children to go into the CPS system. They much prefer that they stay with a relative without having to become a ‘child of the state,’ so to speak. People really step up to keep the children in their own extended family as much as possible, but they struggle tremendously.”